Healing the Shockwaves of Abortion
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Through a Mirror Dimly: Pro-Choice Men and Abortion Grief

by Kevin Burke, LSW

Hugo's Dream

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (Corinthians 13:12)

The Huffington Post has a story by Hugo Schwyzer on a Father’s experience of abortion loss.

The title of this piece – The Child Who Wasn’t: Pro-Choice Men and Abortion Grief – is the first indication of the challenges the author faces in trying to understand his abortion loss within the context of pro-abortion ideology.

Despite this deference to “choice” one would expect to find in a HuffPo piece, from the very beginning, we learn that Hugo desperately wanted to parent the baby.

He shares this exchange with his then 16 year old girlfriend, April:

“No one will believe we can do it,” I told April, “but I know we can… It would be hard but we’d make it work. People our age had been having babies for millennia.”

Hugo was a sensitive, caring and decent young man who was ready to accept the responsibility as parent. While still young and immature like most teenagers, he was already acting like a father and exploring practical ways to take care of their baby.

Sadly, as the story reveals, he learned from his abortion experience that he now must pay homage to the sacred tenets of “choice.” Whatever the women decides is the wise decision…is the “only decision”:

“One of the small and repeated unkindnesses of my life has been forcing the women I love to be practical in the face of my optimistic fantasies. April was a wise 16 (she is a wise 48 now, a tenured professor of psychology), and though she let herself daydream for a moment, she knew before I did that there was only one possible decision. “

Hugo learns that he must ridicule and dismiss his natural instinct to protect, provide and parent this child. Hugo now sees his “optimistic fantasies” to father their child as just the ramblings of a naïve school boy – rather than the desperate pleas of a father for his child’s life.

Reinforcing Complicated Grief

Abortion is not a normal experience of grief – it is a complicated grief. It is often a closely guarded secret

With a natural experience of death you are at least given the opportunity to acknowledge that there has been a loss, express your painful feelings, and find support moving through that experience. There are religious rituals, social supports, expressions of concern and compassion that all help in the grieving process.

Any attempt to acknowledge the unique humanity of the unborn child, and any feelings of regret and loss after abortion, are often met with dismissal and hostility by those who are pro-abortion.

Society, and often friends and family can collude to further complicate post abortion grief by dismissing and even shaming those that share any painful feelings or regret after abortion.

This is necessary as this truth threatens the constructs of individual denial, and strikes at the foundational lies of the abortion movement.

Hugo shares of the response of a friend and April the mother of their baby on what would have been the due date of their child:

“I was not prepared for February 7, 1986. The week that our baby would have been due, I felt a hot, grinding heaviness in my chest. I saw children on the street and I cried. I told a friend, and she looked at me strangely. “There never was a baby to cry for,” she said, “you’re romanticizing a clump of cells.”

I called April to talk about it, and she got angry: “I’m not upset, and I was the one who was pregnant! It’s ridiculous for you to be sad.”

Note how the friend coldly dismisses his grief. The mother of the child, April is not ready to deal with the reality of her loss as a mother. Hugo’s grief is threatening the weak and tottering scaffolding of her denial, and feeling threatened, she also ridicules and shames Hugo for openly expressing his grief.

Relationship Fallout

As is often the case, the toxic effects of the abortion seep deep into the relationship, like radio-active fallout. An abortion is an intimate experience of death and loss at the heart of a couple’s emotional, physical and spiritual union. Couples often stay together as they try to recapture they love, joy and pleasure that brought them together and in their union conceived a child.

Sadly, the symptoms of their complicated grief and inability to acknowledge and grieve this most intimate loss together (while it may initially keep them together as an unconscious memorial of the aborted child) naturally leads to relationship dysfunction:

“The abortion knocked precisely no sense into either of us. April and I stayed together another year ― a year marked by chronic cheating, fights, and slow disillusionment. She had a second abortion, not mine.”

Angry exchanges, infidelity and as Hugo puts it, “slow disillusionment” soon follow. April, predictably acts out her repressed and forbidden post abortion pain and grief in a sexual affair, and suffers another abortion loss.

The relationship, like their unborn child, is over time also aborted.

On The Precipice of Recovery

It is in the final segment of Hugo’s story, that we see him come up to the precipice of abortion recovery.

Once again, he must bow down to pro abortion ideology:

“I can long for the child that was conceived but never born and still be so grateful that April made the decision that she did. The right thing, the best thing, often leaves a mark that fades but never vanishes.”

Yet, in the very next line he shares:

“For more than 30 years, I’ve dreamt about this child who might have come in early 1986.”

We see Hugo wrestle in his story with the truth of his daughter’s loss and his pro abortion ideology. Sadly, he has learned from the time of his first abortion, when his grief was rejected, to downplay and dismiss the deeper meaning of his losses:

“This is selective sentiment― I never dream about the children who might have been born from other, later abortions for which I was responsible. Sometimes I dream it would have been a son, sometimes a daughter.”

It is not selective sentiment.

His subsequent abortions reveal another dynamic of post-abortion complications that pro-abortion supporters fail to understand – the relationship between complicated grief and repeat abortion procedures. (Remember that April also had at least one repeat abortion we know of during the one year dating period after her first procedure with Hugo.)

When a woman or man has that first abortion, and is unable to find a deeper emotional and spiritual healing of that loss, they are more likely to find themselves involved in future abortion procedures.

The most recent statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute reveal that 47% of abortions are repeat procedures.

Dr Theresa Burke explored the dynamics of repeat abortions in her book Forbidden Grief. Theresa shares that abortion in these cases becomes part of an unconscious process to gain mastery over the experience and feelings associated with the initial abortion trauma – to feel a sense of control, and over time, detached indifference.

Yet the symptoms of complicated grief and emotional trauma after abortion feed dysfunctional behaviors and relationships that make repeat abortions more likely. Like April’s mother, these losses, if not properly grieved and reconciled, may lead to multiple experiences of abortion over time.

Hugo’s Dream…Through a Mirror Dimly

Despite his public pro abortion stance, Hugo Schwyzer’s closing segment reveals that on a deeper level, beyond the rationalizations of the intellect, his heart and soul are calling him to a deeper reconciliation and healing of his abortion losses:

“A few years ago, I had a dream that I was hiking in the hills near my family’s ranch in the Bay Area. I was alone; it was a warm spring day, golden poppies and lupine carpeted the hillsides. I came to a summit, and my late father and a young woman in her late 20s were sitting on two rocks, talking quietly. They looked up as I approached, and I knew at once that the young woman was she who was never born. They smiled as I got closer, but their smiles suggested I was interrupting. I wanted to sit and listen, but my father shook his head.

“Huggle,” he said, calling me by my childhood nickname. “You need to go back. We’ll come along in a bit.”

Without the benefit of an abortion recovery program, Hugo will not be able to fully understand and receive the truth of this very important dream. Sadly, he remains constrained by his pro-abortion ideology.

Drawing upon my experience in Rachel’s Vineyard with women and men around the world who have made the emotional and spiritual journey to healing, I believe there is a deeper meaning to Hugo’s dream:

– His father’s comments were an admonition and also a warning.

“You need to go back.” There is spiritual and emotional healing work still left for you to do. Reconcile with God, reconcile with my granddaughter and the other children that you aborted.

– Hugo senses in his dream an exclusive spiritual intimacy of his father and his aborted daughter (each seated on a rock) – that he intrudes upon and does not yet enjoy. He does not yet possess this intimacy which is a fruit of a deeper reconciliation with God and healing of his abortion losses.

– The dream may also serve as an intimate and loving warning:

We will come along soon “Huggles”…prepare…get ready.

– The father’s use of Hugo’s childhood nickname Huggles may reflect his hidden desire to return to a state of spiritual simplicity and innocence. Hugo hungers to have this loss healed, his soul cleansed of the toxic effects of participating in abortions, and longs to return to a child-like peace with his heavenly Father.

The Meadow of Rachel’s Vineyard

Rachel’s Vineyard is a comprehensive emotional and spiritual healing program for abortion loss developed by Theresa Burke, Ph.D. Women, men, grandparents, and anyone who desires healing and reconciliation from an abortion loss are welcome. It is a time for sharing the truth of one’s heart and soul in a safe and non-judgmental setting.

Despite the concerns and misunderstanding Hugo expressed in the article about programs for abortion loss, there is no political or social commentary or agenda as part of any reputable recovery program. If Hugo ever attends a weekend program, he will find compassionate, caring individuals, many who have experienced abortion loss and understand his fears, concerns and suffering.

The weekend activities and exercises of Rachel’s Vineyard facilitate a healthy expression of grief and other painful emotions, reconciliation with the Creator of life, and developing a spiritual relationship with one’s aborted children.

While people of other faiths and beliefs are welcome, the retreat is in a Christian context. This spiritual component is essential to reconcile and heal this complicated loss. The weekend features bible based meditations and therapeutic exercises that help participants move through painful feelings and years of denial, isolation and secrecy. Each step in the program prepares them for an intimate and healing encounter with their aborted children.

An Open Invitation

Hugo: “I had a dream that I was hiking in the hills near my family’s ranch in the Bay Area. I was alone; it was a warm spring day, golden poppies and lupine carpeted the hillsides.”

I was struck by this scene because it is very similar to one of the more moving and spiritually powerful exercises on the Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend, entitled Meeting Our Children with Christ.

As participants travel in this meditation through a dark forest, they come upon rolling hills of flowers with a supernatural, heavenly beauty. They then discover a great meadow where they meet their children who appear gathered in joy with the Risen Lord Jesus.

I hope and pray that one day Hugo, and all men and women wounded by abortion, will make the journey to this healing meadow.